An action comedy that uses a suicide vest loaded with C4 as its central plot device had better be funny or, at least, thrilling. Otherwise the narrative device will detonate, and the results won't be pretty.
That's what happens in 30 Minutes or Less, director Ruben Fleischer's follow-up to his breakout hit Zombieland. Fleischer's previous film married a sweet love story and some genuine surprises with familiar zombie genre tropes. The dual bromances at the heart of his new film, however, are as unconvincing as the life-and-death action plot that propels the film forward.
Jesse Eisenberg, who starred in Zombieland, reunites with Fleischer for 30 Minutes, but it's joyless to see the talented young actor's Oscar-nominated turn in The Social Network followed by this misfire. Eisenberg plays Nick, a shiftless, post-college-age pizza-delivery guy for a Domino's-like company that promises delivery in 30 minutes or less. His relationship with his roommate and best friend Chet (Azia Ansari) has hit a sudden snag with Nick's confession that he once slept with Chet's twin sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria).
Concurrently, an even more shiftless pair of buddies, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), plot to kill Dwayne's ex-military dad (Fred Ward) in order to collect his massive lottery winnings and invest it in a brothel that also fronts as a tanning salon. First, however, they need cash to hire the hitman (Michael Pena) who has been recommended to them by an exotic dancer (Bianca Kajlich). So they call for a pizza, knock out the hapless victim who happens to be Nick, and strap a suicide vest to him with instructions to rob a bank and bring back the money or the vest will be remotely detonated.
Nick must overcome a series of obstacles along the way, and though his pal Chet helps him out, Ansari isn't skilled enough to make the character believable, although he manages to deliver some amusing riffs along the way. Nick's romance with his best friend's sister is a flaccid thing, and never becomes anything to root for. McBride does his usual big-idiot stuff, and only Pena gets in a few off-the-beaten-path moments as the Latino assassin.
First-time screenwriter Michael Dillberti (working from a story idea he developed with Michael Sullivan) is not up to the task of eking comedy from this situation. I'm not sure that any writers short of the Coen brothers or John Waters actually possess the requisite perverse wit.